Auschwitz is enshrined in history in part because, as a work camp, there were survivors. Anita Lasker-Wallfisch was a 14-year-old Jewish cello student living in the German city of Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland) when the war broke out. Two years later, she and her sister Renate were sent to work in a nearby paper factory. In 1942, after the Germans deported her parents to a death camp, the sisters doctored their identity papers and tried to escape.
Remarkably, there were instances of individual resistance and collective efforts at fighting back inside Auschwitz. Poles, Communists and other national groups established networks in the main camp. Some Jews assaulted Nazi guards, even at the entrance to the gas chambers. In October 1944, the Sonderkommando crew at crematoria IV revolted and destroyed the crematoria. It was never used again.
In 2017 a Körber Foundation survey found that 40 percent of 14-year-olds in Germany did not know what Auschwitz was. The following year a survey organized by the Claims Conference, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and others found that 41 percent of 1,350 American adults surveyed, and 66 percent of millennials, did not know what Auschwitz was, while 22 percent said they had never heard of the Holocaust. A CNN-ComRes poll in 2018 found a similar situation in Europe.
In January 1923, France occupied the Ruhr industrial region as a result of Germany's failure to meet its reparations payments. This led to economic chaos, the resignation of Wilhelm Cuno's government and an attempt by the German Communist Party (KPD) to stage a revolution. The reaction to these events was an upsurge of nationalist sentiment. Nazi Party membership grew sharply to about 20,000. By November, Hitler had decided that the time was right for an attempt to seize power in Munich, in the hope that the Reichswehr (the post-war German military) would mutiny against the Berlin government and join his revolt. In this, he was influenced by former General Erich Ludendorff, who had become a supporter—though not a member—of the Nazis.
While top officials reported to Hitler and followed his policies, they had considerable autonomy. He expected officials to "work towards the Führer" – to take the initiative in promoting policies and actions in line with party goals and Hitler's wishes, without his involvement in day-to-day decision-making. The government was a disorganised collection of factions led by the party elite, who struggled to amass power and gain the Führer's favour. Hitler's leadership style was to give contradictory orders to his subordinates and to place them in positions where their duties and responsibilities overlapped. In this way he fostered distrust, competition, and infighting among his subordinates to consolidate and maximise his own power.
Prisoners were crammed into the crumbling barracks and provided only a few hundred calories a day. Most died of starvation, exhaustion and diseases such as typhus and dysentery. Beatings, torture and executions were commonplace. Camp doctors conducted experiments—usually fatal—on prisoners, looking for ways to sterilize women with radiation or toxic chemicals, and studying the effects of extreme cold or starvation on the human body. In the first few years of the camp, 80 percent of new inmates died within two months.
“There is, of course, all possible types of administration done by the Germans of the time,” Thijs Baynes, the filmmaker behind the project, told the Guardian. “And there is an even bigger circle of circumstantial evidence. What [Dutch Nazi party] members were in the neighborhood? What connections were with the Gestapo? Where were Gestapo agents living?
On August 4, 1944, German and Dutch SS men led by SS Oberscharführer Josef Zilberbauer raided the hiding place. The identity of the Dutch citizen who informed on the fugitives is uncertain, but the most probable suspect (and until 2002 the only one) is Willem van Maaren, who worked in the warehouse of the building where they were hidden. On September 3, 1944 all eight of them were sent to Auschwitz on the last transport from Westerbork, which numbered about a thousand people. Edith Frank died of starvation in Auschwitz at the beginning of January 1945. Margot and Anne, who were taken to Bergen-Belsen at the end of October 1944, died there in the typhus epidemic that killed thousands of prisoners at the end of February and the beginning of March, 1945. On liberation, Otto returned to Holland to discover, after long searching, that he was the only one of the eight who had survived.
What of those immigrants who became citizens, or those beleaguered minorities to whom the United States granted the privileges of citizenship? Despite an avowed declaration of constitutional equality, citizenship was under its own separate-but-equal doctrine. Until 1924, Native Americans were considered “nationals” and not citizens. After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Puerto Ricans and Filipinos were legally classified as “non-citizen nationals.” Most infamously, the 1857 Dred Scott decision held that African Americans were not citizens, and even after the Civil War, black people were legally relegated to third-class status. The Nazis took interest in all of this; the second Nuremburg Law confined citizenship to that person who “is exclusively a national of German blood, or racially related blood.” Jews were denaturalized, rendered subjects. The U.S. precedent laid out how to create a hierarchy of citizens, nationals, and subjects. Tiered citizenship and the capricious revocations of civil rights were of great interest to Nazi intellectuals.
The Nazi Party won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, making them the largest party in the legislature by far, but still short of an outright majority. Because none of the parties were willing or able to put together a coalition government, in 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul Von Hindenburg, through the support and connivance of traditional conservative nationalists who believed that they could control him and his party. Through the use of emergency presidential decrees by Hindenburg, and a change in the Weimar Constitution which allowed the Cabinet to rule by direct decree, bypassing both Hindenburg and the Reichstag, the Nazis had soon established a one-party state.
In 1940, the Nazis used carbon monoxide gas in secret euthanasia programs at mental hospitals in Germany to eliminate mentally ill or disabled people. From there, it was but a small step to Zyklon B, a cyanide compound designed for delousing. In September 1941, Auschwitz guards herded hundreds of Soviet POWs and sick inmates into the crudely sealed basement of Block 11, the dreaded punishment barrack; a guard threw in pellets of Zyklon B and shut the doors. They were the first people gassed at Auschwitz.
Generally speaking, Nazi theorists and politicians blamed Germany's previous economic failures on political causes like the influence of Marxism on the workforce, the sinister and exploitative machinations of what they called international Jewry and the vindictiveness of the western political leaders' war reparation demands. Instead of traditional economic incentives, the Nazis offered solutions of a political nature, such as the elimination of organised trade unions, rearmament (in contravention of the Versailles Treaty) and biological politics. Various work programs designed to establish full-employment for the German population were instituted once the Nazis seized full national power. Hitler encouraged nationally supported projects like the construction of the Autobahn highway system, the introduction of an affordable people's car (Volkswagen) and later the Nazis bolstered the economy through the business and employment generated by military rearmament. The Nazis benefited early in the regime's existence from the first post–Depression economic upswing, and this combined with their public works projects, job-procurement program and subsidised home repair program reduced unemployment by as much as 40 percent in one year. This development tempered the unfavourable psychological climate caused by the earlier economic crisis and encouraged Germans to march in step with the regime.
The process of losing any kind of hope was a very gradual one. We were transported in cattle wagons in which many babies and children suffocated, in what it turned out was the last transport of Hungarians. We had no water, no food, there was no hygiene. That diminished our hope and increased the feeling of being trapped. But despite that, you always retained a glimmer of hope. Always.
That same day, Gestapo official SS Sergeant Karl Silberbauer and two Dutch police collaborators arrested the Franks; the Gestapo sent them to Westerbork transit camp on August 8. One month later, on September 4, 1944, SS and police authorities placed the Franks and the four others hiding with them on a train transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau in German-occupied Poland.
Researchers and Jewish thinkers such as Bruno Bettelheim (1903–1990), Lawrence Langer, Art Spiegelman, Richard Bernstein and, the sharpest of them, Cynthia Ozick, feel that this sentence, especially as it appears at the end of the play and the movie based on the diary, says that perhaps Auschwitz did not exist at all, that all people are good; that it is a Christian blessing promising God’s mercy to everyone, regardless of their actions; that the difficulty in digesting the Holocaust leads to its being pushed aside, if not denied outright. These thinkers opposed the diary’s adaptations, not Anne’s diary itself, which was courageously Jewish and anti-German, and revealing from a human, familial and national perspective. Yet adaptations and translations continued to be published over their protests, and the diary continued to be rendered universal and sterile, forgiving and comfortable to read and identify with.
On 31 July 1941 Hermann Göring gave written authorization to SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), to prepare and submit a plan for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in territories under German control and to coordinate the participation of all involved government organisations. The resulting Generalplan Ost (General Plan for the East) called for deporting the population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to Siberia, for use as slave labour or to be murdered.